Symbols Aren’t Always Symbolic

So, there was this really interesting article recently on the BBC News website, and it pretty much sums up the past two weeks of my life quite nicely. 

The article I’m talking about is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-24149316

It details the movement currently under-way to have the famous disability icon changed from something more static to a symbol that would be representative of every kind of disability.  I found that really interesting.  Think about it; its pretty hard to find one symbol to encompass a whole wide range of impairments, from physical to sensory, the visible and the invisible.  The symbol we all know now is one of a stationary person, with a scarily straight posture who looks as if they are fused with a wheelchair.  This is the symbol associated with disability since the late 1960’s.  And it has now become what most people will expect to see when they hear of someone with a disability.  They don’t expect a person who is able bodied but deaf or partially sighted. 

Sometimes, I think that because people have preconceptions about what a person with a disability should look or act like, they’re not aware that this person could be in their midst.  And unfortunately I’ve suffered because of that in the last two weeks.  One such incident was when I got out of a car that was (rightfully and lawfully) parked in a disabled bay, and a member of the public decided it was ok to verbally abuse me “because that space is for a lad in a wheelchair – there’s nothing wrong with you”.  Just because you can’t see my problems obviously doesn’t mean I don’t have them.  And its so hurtful when someone does treat you that way, in broad daylight and in full view of others, and you feel like you can’t defend yourself.  Another such incident was when someone gave me a telling off for my “outright rudeness” because I’d walked passed them without waving or smiling.  That person didn’t realise that, you know, I’d have smiled had I seen you!  But I didn’t, because my eyes don’t work the same as yours unfortunately. 

I’m not writing about either of those incidents to score points or to make it sound like my life is hard or anything – I just think it’s important people realise that these things do happen when you’ve got a “hidden” disability.  And there are so many ways to combat it too.  First off, don’t ever dwell on it.  We’re all guilty of making snap decisions about someone based on what we see.  Everyone does it, even I do it – it’s human nature!  What I’ve found works for me is to just try and calmly explain to someone why I have a parking permit or why I sometimes look at them and don’t respond.  It’s the best way to deal with it because 9 times out of 10 that person is so happy to know that you’re not being rude or obnoxious – you just have extra needs that they mightn’t realise.

It’ll be interesting in the coming months to see what kind of symbol is created to symbolise disability worldwide.  What are your thoughts? Do you like the symbol already in circulation?  I think the one that is being thought of would be great – a less stationary figure who is in motion and trying to move. 

Because let’s face it – no matter what your impairment, how many of us are ever that motionless in everyday life?     

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Author: Beyond the Blonde

> 24 > BSc in Public Health & Health Promotion graduate > Masters student in UCC, MBS Government > politically active > entirely natural blonde > lover of rugby > consumer of cupcakes > dedicated follower of leopard print > afraid of but enjoy horror movies

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